It took a temporary restraining order from a St. Louis judge to keep abortion services operating at Planned Parenthood last week, as Missouri’s battle for the facility’s license moved from the statehouse in Jefferson City to downtown streets and to the courthouse, as women’s reproductive health advocates protested, marched and rallied in downtown St. Louis.
On Friday, May 31, just hours before the license would have expired, Judge Michael Stelzer granted the temporary restraining order requested by Planned Parenthood, without making a decision for either side on whether the license should be renewed. A hearing was set for Wednesday, June 4, which could decide whether the state’s sole provider of abortion services can continue to operate.
Those on the front lines who have been rallying promise their fight is not over.
“Planned Parenthood has served Missouri for more than 87 years, and we aren’t going anywhere. While Governor Parson abandoned our patients, we will not,” stated Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB-GYN, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. “Our doors are open today, our doors will be open tomorrow, and we will fight to make sure all patients continue to receive the care they need and deserve.”
Contingency plans are in place to get Missouri women to Illinois clinics that offer medication-assisted or surgical abortions.
“We have a health center in Fairview Heights, Illinois, where we provide abortion care. We will be connecting our Missouri area patients to that facility and to our partner, Hope Clinic for Women, which provides abortion care, in Granite City,” said Angie Postal, vice president of Education, Policy and Community Engagement, Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region of Southwest Missouri.
“We are going to keep fighting, but we are also going to make sure that anyone who needs an abortion has access to a safe abortion, and we’ll do anything we can to take care of those people.”
On Wednesday, May 29, Governor Mike Parson took to Facebook Live to call out Planned Parenthood for what he described as a series of deficiencies that were cited by the state Department of Health and Senior Services, claiming this was not a prolife issue but rather an issue about women’s safety and health. However, just last week, Parson signed into law one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, limiting abortions to eight-weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for incest or other forms of rape.
In a statement after the restraining order was granted, Parson said, “We are committed to and take seriously our duty to ensure that all health facilities in Missouri follow the law, abide by regulations, and protect the safety of patients."
Planned Parenthood said the state health department has become a political tool of Gov. Parson. The state is putting the squeeze on doctors who are contracted to perform abortion services at Reproductive Health Services to force them to submit to an interview, which is outside of the renewal application process.
“The state, over the past several years, has changed the way they interpret their own regulations, and so they’ve made it impossible for us to comply because they keep moving the goalpost,” Postal told The American. “Shame on them for playing politics with people’s health. Let’s be clear – women and girls will die if we don’t have access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri. That’s what happened before 1973, and that’s the future that people that sponsored and passed this legislation want.”
On Thursday, May 30, just one day before the license was set to expire, demonstrators for women’s reproductive rights demonstrated at different sites in downtown St. Louis, including Luther Ely Smith Park, 20 N. 4th St., and a march to a nearby state office building where women and men of all ages cheered for women’s continued right to choose what happens to their own bodies.
“I’ve had two abortions. I was 19 and scared to death, and Planned Parenthood was there for me,” Nia said. “When I was 37 and in a bad situation and had to make that choice, and that may be the last time I had the chance to have a baby – I still made that choice and Planned Parenthood was [expletive] there for me.”
“When I was 19, at college, I thought I could trust my friends that I went to a party with. One drink – they drugged me with one drink. After we got kicked out of the hotel party, we all went to someone’s house, where I was raped on a pool table,” Alison said.
“My friends told me that I was raped six months after – because I was drugged and I didn’t remember. Without Planned Parenthood, I wouldn’t have been able to go and get myself tested, because do you think I would have really wanted to tell my mom – the one who thought I was a whore to begin with?”
Those in the fight to continue women’s reproductive rights include those who look beyond today on behalf of the future of women.
“My name is Lauren, I’m 16 years old and I’ve never been pregnant, I’ve never had an abortion and I’m not sexually active, but I know people who are, and I am here to support them,” she said. “I’m tired of coming out here and marching and speaking up for these rights that we should already have – these human rights.”
While they were outside the state office building, a small group of demonstrators made their way inside the building – resulting in 16 arrests for trespassing. St. Louis police said two received summons and were released and 14 were booked.
Lauren added, “If you ever feel alone in this fight – I’m here. Look around you, people are standing here with you – you are not in this fight alone, and never think that you are.”
In a hearing scheduled for later today (Tues., June 4) Planned Parenthood will request that the St. Louis Circuit Court to issue a preliminary injunction barring the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying or delaying its license renewal. This story will be updated with ruling results when they become available.